Pass the martinis. It’s officially an “emergency.”
The Wichita City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to declare a public emergency to clear the way for Mort’s Martini and Cigar Bar to use part of an Old Town parking lot for its 20th anniversary celebration this weekend.
“We didn’t know we were going to cause so much hubbub,” said Emma Russell, one of the bar’s owners. “It is very important to us. It’s exciting.”
Mort’s had asked the city for a permit to use a few parking spaces to handle overflow crowds expected Saturday and Sunday for the celebration, which will include continuous music from 14 bands and a $5 barbecue expected to overwhelm the bar’s regular seating capacity.
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It initially seemed like a slam dunk request, but state law bans drinking on public property unless the local government passes an ordinance specifically allowing it.
The city discovered late in the process that the parking lot by Mort’s wasn’t on the city’s list of places where drinking is allowed at special events. That list includes River Festival sites, the Old Town Cinema Plaza, Old Cowtown Museum, the Wichita Art Museum and Exploration Place, among others.
The only way to get the parking lot by Mort’s onto that list in time for the celebration was to pass a Declaration of Emergency, which allows the City Council to approve an ordinance in one day and have it take immediate effect.
“I’d just like to say thank you for your time and your consideration of this situation,” Russell told the council. “We’re trying to celebrate 20 years (in business) and this situation came up in our permit process and we’re just trying to use a few spots in the parking lot.”
Mort’s co-owner Morrie Sheets said last week that he’s received many congratulations, including a plaque from Gov. Sam Brownback, and that Southwest Airlines called about doing a story on the bar for its inflight magazine.
The city’s new ordinance will cover a rectangular area bounded by First Street to the north, Washington to the east, Douglas to the south and Mosley to the west. Drinking in the public areas of that block will be allowed only during permitted special events.
Council member Janet Miller thanked Russell and the city staff for coming up with a solution that solves the immediate problem and makes it possible for other nearby businesses to have special events in the future.
“You and staff have been working through the process since early spring and thought it was on track and then suddenly you ran into this issue,” Miller told Russell. “I appreciate your patience and bringing it to our attention.”
Mort’s party is slated to run from noon to 2 a.m. Saturday and noon to 10 p.m. Sunday.